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October 25, 2020

Denver Film Festival - Wet Season

wet season.png

Re Dai Yu
Anthony Chen - 2019
Memento Films

The colors in Wet Season are muted. Mostly shades of blue and gray with some white and beige make up the limited palette. This is Anthony Chen's first film since Ilo Ilo in 2013, which also played at the Denver Film Festival that year. As indicated by the title, it is indeed the rainy season in Singapore, where the film takes place. Some aspects of the film may be confusing to those unfamiliar with some of the politics and culture of Singapore and Malaysia. The main characters experience a sense of displacement, finding themselves in situations they feel they can not control.

The film centers on Ling, a Chinese language teacher in a marriage with an emotionally remote husband. The husband is barely visible in his first appearances, virtually a shadow. Ling is also the main caregiver of her father-in-law, disabled by a stroke. Her high school students are are a classroom of indifferent young men. Ling's attempts to offer a remedial class are rejected by all but one student, Wei Lun. Private tutoring evolves into a more intimate relationship.

Politics are not far away. Ling is Malaysian-Chinese, in communication with her mother who lives far enough away from the government protests televised daily from Malaysia. While Ling's classes in Mandarin are required based on assumed use in business, even the school principal speaks primarily English. Chinese diaspora culture in film is most obvious with Wei Lun's admiration for Jackie Chan and his proficiency in wushu, culminating in a solo display for a school competition. Wei Lun and Ling's father-in-law bond over watching two martial arts films by King Hu, A Touch of Zen and Come Drink with Me on TV, both considered Hong Kong films by a filmmaker who made Taiwan his home.

In an interview, Chen stated: "I explore identity in my films, I explore the definition of what relationships are. I explore how complex relationships are. I’m not here to to dish out simple answers. I like to think of my cinema as a mirror or a certain reflection of life, or a reflection of what we don't want to talk about, or what we don’t want to see, or what we refuse to see. And it makes us think about it."

Rather than exposition, Chen uses visual clues. Driving in a busy street in the main business area, Ling by chance spies her husband with another woman. Ling's dream about a baby crying in her arms connects with the similar sounds made by the father-in-law who now lives in an infantilized state, complete with diapers. Sometimes a single sentence makes a complete commentary. Ling's husband skips out on a family celebration with the claim that he's to play golf with a client. As soon as Ling explains her husband's absence, it is pointed out that it is raining.

Like Ilo Ilo, Wet Season stars Yeo Yann Yann. At Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards, the equivalent to the Oscars, Wet Season received multiple nominations including direction and screenplay for Anthony Chen. Yeo won the film's sole award for Best Actress.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 25, 2020 06:16 AM